Waitsfield dairy farmer Elwin Neill Jr. terminated the license agreement with Waitsfield for the Mad River Path Greenway that runs along his land along the Mad River.
For almost two decades, Neill and the town have had a license agreement that allowed the greenway on the Neill land. On February 11, Neill submitted a one-page letter to the town that read:
"This is written notice of the termination of the license agreement for
the Mad River Greenway on lands owned by Elwin Neill Jr. on the Neill
Farm LLC. I would ask that all signs and structures be removed at the
end of the 60-day period."
Autumn Foushee, director of the Mad River Path Association (which created and maintained the greenway), said that her organization was seeking to renew the agreement with Neill.
"Basically we're not sure exactly what has been going on for him; haven't been any incidents on the greenway. We've been in discussions with him looking to renew license agreement. This means we no longer have access. What that does is give us 60 days until greenway would be closed, and so we're in the process of talking with him figuring out what has happened," Foushee said.
Neill, in an interview this week, said that there was not one specific incident that had triggered his letter and his termination of the agreement.
"It was a tough decision to make. We've had the license for the greenway with the town and the Path Association for a very long time. It seems like the public, as things are there for a very long time, fewer and fewer people are aware of the original agreement and the fact that this is not a public property. People are assuming it was public and taking it for granted. I've got mountain bikers and dogs tearing through my open fields, dogs pooping everywhere and running everywhere. We shouldn't be getting complaints about dogs jumping on people when we're at the grocery store," Neill explained.
Neill said he and the Path Association had been working on a state "Open Space" designation that provides property tax breaks for landowners who keep parts of their land open for the public. He said the Path Association had opted not to bring the matter to the select board to include for consideration at Town Meeting.
"The tax break would only be on the local property tax. It was not a lot of money, but it would be a gesture," Neill said.
When asked what action the town or Path Association could take to change his mind, Neill said, "I feel I can no longer afford to donate this. It costs me three cents a minute, or $40 a day, in taxes to use my land for my business. I don't feel I can afford to donate it to the public anymore."
"But if another agreement does happen, there will be a 'no dog' clause because that's been a real issue," he added.
The greenway runs north and south along the Mad River from Meadow Road. It meanders with the river, through woods and along the edges of Neill's farm fields. To the south, from Meadow Road, the greenway runs all the way to Tremblay Road.